Wildlife Wednesday – All Creatures Great and Small

The first Wednesday of March, one day after the beginning of our meteorological Spring is suddenly here. February flew by in a blur. The weather has veered from heavy rain and high winds to occasional sunshine and sharp frosty mornings.

Goldfinch on Rudbeckia seed head

Goldfinch on Rudbeckia seed head

The cold weather brought in a trio of Goldfinches, to feast on the seed heads of Rudbeckia, Teasels and Astilbe. The males and females are similar but females are slightly duller with less red on their face; the trio looked masculine. And made me glad I had not cut back any of the overwintering seed heads, despite the untidiness and my itchy fingers.

Snails

Revealed – Garden Snails

We kept warm by spending a whole week digging out the rocks and soil of an enormous ground elder, riddled and inherited rockery, most of which was wheelbarrowed into a large skip. As the drab brown sandstone rocks were dismantled, we discovered family groups of snails. As the food of Thrushes, snails always remind me of Summer and  listening to the ‘tap, tap, tap’ of a Thrush as the snail shell is bashed on something hard to reveal its contents – one of my favourite summer sounds.

IMG_0486

Helix aspersa Common Garden Snail

The larger mature snails hibernate during winter months and waken up in Spring. Mostly they were still dormant but one brave small snail began to explore. Shortly they will become more active especially on cloudy or rainy days, they dislike desiccating hot sun.

Common Garden Snail 'Foot'

Common Garden Snail ‘Foot’

Underneath the snail, which at it’s fastest is reported to travel 1.3 centimetres per second is a ‘foot’, a flatish muscular organ. Mucus is released to help the snail glide over rough surfaces, leaving a tell tale meandering trail. Apparently they have a complicated and interesting sex life and can produce 430 babies a year. On the upside they are one of natures cleaners, consuming debris, sadly they are also partial to a prized vegetable leaf. As well as Thrushes – Ducks, Lizards and Frogs eat snails. We’ve cleared the rockery area to make space for a recycled greenhouse and small pond with wildlife friendly planting where we hope visiting Frogs, Wild Ducks and Thrushes will have a field day on the snails.

Dunnock in the woodstore

Dunnock in the woodstore

Since my last Wildlife Wednesday post on our Robins, we haven’t seen any sign of nesting (yet) but the poor little Dunnocks, subject of many a Robin attack are nest building in one of our wood stores. This little brown bird also has an interesting sex life and pair up in unusual and complex ways. In their determination to carry on their gene pool, they can pair male and female, one male two females, one female two males and several males and several females. All very liberal!

Dunnock

Dunnock creeping along the ground

Hopefully when you read this, you are not eating. Often two males mate with one female , the female hopes both males will help her raise the chicks. The dominant male will try to remove the rivals sperm by pecking the female’s rear end (the cloaca – through which both faeces and eggs exit) and encourage her to eject it. Dominant male mating then follows. Liberal and ghastly!

Male Blackbird

Male Blackbird, usually a ground feeding bird.

Less complicated are our Blackbirds, this fellow is singing his heart out. The Black Feathered males with bright yellow bills and eye rings are easily identified. Juveniles are similar to females, the RSPB explain how to identify the juvenile male wing bars.

Female Blackbird

Female Blackbird or is it a year old juvenile?

We are quite hopeful there is a Blackbird nest just beyond our vegetable garden in an area of overgrown brambles, grasses and emerging wildflowers with pioneer native Alders growing along the drainage ditch and Birch trees colonising the bare areas. Both tree species will be rich in insect life, for the birds to forage on. Technically this area is a no mans land, land locked between houses and fields with no hope of future access. Many a snail and slug has been delivered here, for foraging creatures further up the food chain.

Edgeworthia chrysantha and Robin

Edgeworthia chrysantha and Robin

And finally on a more colourful note, this last photo was taken on Sunday morning in the RHS Wisley Garden, I had a couple of hours to while away waiting for my daughter to finish her netball training. As I leant forward to smell the fragrance of the Edgeworthia, a very round Robin hoped onto the branch, inches away from my face, one of those uplifting and life affirming moments. There is a great deal to worry about in life but there is also a great deal to be grateful for and enjoy in the natural world.

With many thanks as always to the lovely Tina and her wonderful Wildlife Wednesday meme, please take a look at other contributions from across the globe.

Happy Wildlife Watching!

74 thoughts on “Wildlife Wednesday – All Creatures Great and Small

  1. Well, as usual, your photos are magnificent!! Your Goldfinches are just gorgeous! I love the explanation of the Dunnock sex life. I suppose from a biological standpoint, it’s best to keep an open mind. 🙂 I like snails–I always have some, and hear gardeners complain about them, but they’ve never proved a problem for my plants, with the possible exception of my Iris straps. I figure birds enjoy them and that’s okay by me. The photo of the male Blackbird is beautiful. Your Blackbirds remind me of our Grackles, a common bird here. I’m always taken about by your Robins, compared to ours–so different. Thanks for participating, it’s always a pleasure.

    • Lol, I was trying to be open minded! Largely I feel as you do about Snails, they are far less bother than Slugs, which are active throughout the winter especially when its been this mild and lay their eggs in the soil. But even so slugs are also natures cleaners and food for all sorts of large creatures. Thanks for hosting. 🙂

  2. Loved every bit of this post Julie! Your photos are absolutely stunning and it is so nice to see the lovely British birds. The one of the blackbird on the feeder and the little Robin in the Edgeworthia are gorgeous. How nice of Mr Robin to turn up for a perfect photo opportunity just as you were taking in the scent! What fascinating info about the mating habits of the blackbirds – I am now enlightened! Haha! Loved the snail pics too!
    Really beautiful post – Thank you!
    – Kate

    • Thanks so much Kate, its the Dunnocks that have the unusual sex life, as far as I know Blackbirds are rather more restrained! I love those moments when wildlife share their space so easily, I imagine you see some wonderful wildlife in Florida.

  3. A very interesting post and lovely photo of the Goldfinch on the seedhead. I wish I had left mine on a bit longer now, but I think they are spoilt with all the sunflower seeds I put out. They won’t even eat the niger seeds any more.
    Well, I will never look at the Dunnocks in the same way again. They look such timid, inconsequential little birds – who would have thought all that was going on!

    • This is the longest I’ve left Rudbeckia seed heads on Annette, most perennials are usually cut back by March, so they were lucky but I will definitely do the same next year. My husband just said exactly the same thing about Dunnocks, its always the quiet ones!

  4. Love the article, and the photos are marvelous! im going to take this with me “There is a great deal to worry about in life but there is also a great deal to be grateful for and enjoy in the natural world.” very well said..

    • Thanks Julian, the gardens were packed with folk, mostly to visit the glasshouses filled with exotic butterflies, a clever way to encourage families into Wisley over Winter. Lovely though to see how much attitudes towards children visiting gardens have changed.

    • That was such a lovely moment Janet, at home when I garden Robins and Blackbirds will come very close looking for the spoils, but I’ve usually gardening gloves on rather than a handy camera in my hands!

  5. Your photos are captivating + I feel as if I am standing in the garden with you:-)
    I found it interesting how your birds are named the same but the colors are so different, for example, the gold finches. Ours have no red on them but are mostly dark/brownish green in the winter. Not very exciting, but when summer comes they turn a bright yellow! Your robins are different too. Thank you for sharing:-)

    • Thanks Robbie, I have been struck by the same thing when reading blogs from your part of the world, its interesting how names evolve. The bright yellow summer Goldfinch must be a dazzling sight.

  6. Great post Julie! I knew about those Dunnocks and often see them ‘trysting’ under the shrubs in our garden! Our blackbirds aren’t singing yet – just a bit too cold for them I think.

    • You had me wondering what I had heard Clare and have just looked on the RSPB forum, apparently the young year old male Blackbirds sing early sometimes from January and the older birds wait until March. Presumably age knows best!

  7. A lovely glimpse at the wildlife in your garden, the bird images are perfect. You confirmed something I surmised but have never actually seen that lizards eat snails; we have hundreds of lizards in the garden (no cats to keep their numbers in check) and I often find empty snail shells. I’m grateful to the lizards for keeping the snails under control.

    • I haven’t witnessed a Lizard eating snails or slugs Christina, but I have read about it on several sources, we do have the occasional slowworm – classified as a lizard and they eat snails and slugs. It sounds as if you have the right conditions for so many Lizards to thrive and do their job in the ecosystem.

  8. What a beautiful post with equally beautiful photos to celebrate the richness of wildlife. I also enjoy reading about the facts, Julie. Think you’d enjoy ‘The sound of a wild snail eating’ – it’s a book I that opened a window onto another world for me 🙂

    • Thank you so much for the recommendation Annette, I have just found a copy on Amazon and am excited by the blurb, Elisabeth Tova Bailey isn’t an author I have read before – I am looking forward to reading it. 🙂

  9. Brilliant post Julie, thank you. I am very fond of Dunnocks, I remember way back to David Atenborough’s ‘Life of Birds’ when he documented their interesting breeding tactics – I learnt then to never judge a bird by its lack of colourful plumage! Great snail pics and narrative too.

    • Thanks so much Theresa, we grew up with David Attenborough (not literally) and he has been and still is at 90 the most inspiring man. What a wonderful life dedicated to studying the natural world he has led.

  10. All so exquisite images Julie! and don’t worry I was having my morning coffee when reading your post ;)) but quite interesting behaviour!
    The little, round Robin is a jewel!

  11. Fantastic photos, Julie. I’ve just been watching a dunnock hop around under the nut feeder and I now have this whole other feeling about the timid thing! I am afraid I am not nice to either slugs or snails when I encounter them, but I am pretty certain my garden is overpopulated with them!

    • Thanks, snails are not so bad, once you get to accept them as food for Thrushes, Slugs on the other hand take some loving. The worst is trying to wash their stubborn gloop off fingers, when taking them to the field at the bottom of our garden.

    • Thanks Cathy, it was magical. Often Robins and Blackbirds will come quite close when I’m working in a garden but of course with muddy hands I do not keep a camera with me, so nice to capture the moment for once. 🙂

  12. What a lovely post, and as others have mentioned, how wry to have those less flashily feathered birds out there being so sexually unrestrained! I suppose all the smirks about sexy stuff arriving in “plain brown wrappers” translates in this case…

    Another treat to see that Robin and share your uplift from its appearance. News about wildlife seems resolutely negative lately and it is wonderful to be reminded so beautifully that while we humans often cause ruinous havoc the garden and wild’s creatures are yet out and about, doing what needs to be done.

  13. I had no idea bird sex was so complicated! Talk about drama! I do love the last pic. I once had a baby sparrow watch me as I worked in the garden. It was so close to me and seemed as fascinated by me as I was by him. It was a very touching moment and a reminder my garden wasn’t completely mine at all.

    • I can imagine how touching that moment was Tammy, I am sure in your lovely garden there is a lot of wildlife grateful to you and your planting.

  14. Oh Julie! All these photos are magnificent: such beauty. And that blackbird photo made me linger for a long time. I’ve come to really appreciate the beauty of snails.

    • Thanks Debra, I really like snails, there are some really beautiful species, all very lovely to watch and their shells make it easy to move them from any prized veg leaves. Hope you have a lovely week Debra.

  15. Pingback: Wildlife Wednesday – All Creatures Great and Small – LOVEBIRDS

  16. Your photos make snails intriguing, if not attractive. Your goldfinches and robins are beautiful, and very different from the birds who share those common names on this side of the Atlantic. As for the sex life of birds, I’m just going to feign ignorance until I actually forget what I read.

    • Thanks Donna, we are very fond of our Robins over here, they are feisty but guaranteed to bring a smile. I hope your snow is starting to give way to Spring.

    • Slugs are a real pain here, I try to love all creatures, but that group is a test of patience plus as we garden organically I collect by hand and its absolutely revolting to touch them.Yuck indeed!

  17. A wonderful post; I missed it earlier as your posts don’ t seem to be appearing in my reader lately- a common problem with WordPress. I love your wildlife posts Julie, so full of interesting information and fantastic photos.

    • Thanks, thats a lovely thing to say. I haven’t posted very much over the last few months, apart from Tina’s meme, and a few wordless posts. We have a few projects too, although progress is very slow!

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